The five Chinese military officers charged with economic espionage for hacking American companies to steal trade secrets and intellectual property, aren't likely to ever see the inside of a U.S. courtroom. It's hard to imagine China will turn them over to U.S. officials for trial.
But the charges -- the first against a state actor for criminal cyber-theft -- marks an important escalation of the battle with China over hot and heavy cyber-spying.
The indictment called China's bluff. Chinese government officials have routinely responded to U.S. complaints about state-sponsored hacking by challenging U.S. officials to come up with hard evidence that could stand up in court. Now U.S. officials say they have, and they're naming names and talking tough.
"This administration will not tolerate actions by any nation that seeks to illegally sabotage American companies and undermine the integrity of fair competition," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday.
Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Carlin punctuated that hard line. "We will hold state-sponsored cyber-thieves accountable as we would any other transnational criminal organization that steals our goods and breaks our laws," he said.
And FBI Director James Comey signaled this is just the beginning. "There are many more victims, and there is much more to be done. We will continue to use all legal tools at our disposal to counter cyber espionage from all sources," he said.
The conspiracy alleged in Monday's grand jury indictment was run from one building in Shanghai and targeted companies such as Westinghouse Electric Co., SolarWorld AG, United States Steel Corp., Alcoa. The sensitive information that was stolen was useful to those companies' competitors in China, including state-owned enterprises.
There's a global cyber-war going on and the United States just attacked on a new front.